Deals as good as done (updated with Rolston)
Barring anything unforeseen, and according to their agents, both Ryan Malone and Gary Roberts could sign Lightning contracts today. In fact, both contracts apparently are down to the details that, really, still could be worked out by late tonight, though no formal announcement is expected until Monday.
"We're very optimistic we'll get something done by July 1," Lightning owner Len Barrie said. "Both players, I think, are excited to be part of the family.
Malone, 28, a rising star in the league, is believed to have agreed to a seven-year, $31.5-million contract. That's a $4.5-million annual salary cap hit. Roberts, 42, is believed to have a base salary of $1.2-million and incentives that could raise his compensation to $2-million.
Roberts' agent, Rick Curran, would not comment on the numbers, but said he is "very optimistic that by (Monday) we will be able to finalize something."
Malone's agent, Mike Liut, breaking his normal practice of not speaking to the media about negotiations, said, "It's going to get done."
If so, what a windfall for the Lightning on so many levels. Malone, who had career highs last season of 27 goals, 51 points and 103 penalty minutes likely will play on a line with rookie center Steve Stamkos and be in front of the net on the power play. Roberts, who had just three goals in 38 games in a season slowed by a broken left leg and a high ankle sprain, will start on Jeff Halpern's apparent third line, though Roberts is much more sought after for his leadership role.
What does this do for the Lightning during free agency? It makes them, as owner Oren Koules said, a lot more choosy when it comes to finding another scoring wing. As I've said before, I think Radim Vrbata of the Coyotes would be a terrific fit. He is 27 years old and had 27 goals last season and can grow with the Lightning's younger players. And he's a right-handed shot, something the team could use, especially on the power play.
The Lightning also may be on the verge of trading for the rights to Wild forward Brian Rolston, who also could become an unrestricted free agent on July 1. Rolston is 35 but has three straight 30-goal seasons (96 goals total). Another so-called character guy that could add leadership to the locker room and scoring punch up front.
Not sure what Tampa Bay is offering. But when Malone signs and the Penguins get a third-round pick in 2009 from the Lightning as compensation (the original deal was for a fourth-round pick that would change to a third if Malone signed), perhaps the Lightning offers the 2009 fourth-round pick for Rolston.
Seems Rolston recently said he was committed to going into free agency, so the WIld is trying to get something for him before perhaps losing him for nothing.